The Colony: Season 1

The ColonySynopsis: The Colony Season 1 takes a group of ten volunteers and places them in a world created by experts in engineering, psychology, and homeland security where a faux global catastrophe has occurred and they are the survivors. Watch as these strangers ban together to create a new society while struggling without any modern conveniences. The Colony Season One takes a close look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of what might happen in a new world order.
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The Colony: Season 1 7.75

eyelights: the core concept. the ingenuity of some of the survivors.
eyesores: the contrivances of the setting. the sketchy realism of the situation.

There’s been a global infection, and you’re one of the few people remaining alive. Plant and wildlife are unharmed, but civilization as you’ve known it has essentially collapsed. You meet a handful of others like yourself and find a large abandoned factory to hole up in. How do you survive?

Such is the premise of ‘The Colony’.

‘The Colony’ is a reality TV series… Wait! Don’t look away! I know I said “reality TV series”, but don’t write this one off just yet. Let me start by admitting that I’m the first to roll my eyes when someone else talks to me about so-called “reality” TV shows – the biggest misnomer ever!

It’s not even just the fact that our era’s version is mindless gutter tripe, it’s the basic notion of “reality” TV: that what you see is real. It’s not: it’s been edited and it only shows you a selected perspective (which has often been scripted in advance, even). It’s biased beyond belief.

But these shows can simulate realistic situations to some degree and, given that they (usually) don’t feature actors, it’s the closest thing to getting a bird’s eye view on the scenarios being presented to them. One can live vicariously through these people, imagine their “reality”.

That might explain why audiences flock to reality TV shows the way that they do.

‘The Colony’ was interesting to me because offered it mixed the concept of a special living arrangement, à la ‘The Real World’ or ‘Big Brother’, and crossed it with a social experiment-type show. And given today’s global reality, the scenario of a large-scale catastrophe was plausible.

So I was very curious to see how these people would cope and adapt in this context.

The show tries to take a documentary-style approach, with a narrator establishing the story and highlighting the challenges, maps of the warehouse situating us, and experts commenting on the developments, providing insight on psychology, technology and security.

‘The Colony’ boasts of bringing together a representative cross-section of modern society together: a computer engineer, doctor, handyman, independent contractor, machinist, marine scientist, martial arts instructor, mechanical engineer, nurse and an aerospace engineer.

Right from the start, I was a little skeptical about this premise because, in a state of crisis, the odds are pretty good that you wouldn’t easily find such a diverse group of people – and with skills that could actually be useful contextually. You might find store clerks, office staff, …etc.

You know, people with few survival skills. People ready to die. (I count myself in that lot, b-t-w…)

The narrator advises us that a number of challenges will be put to the group, including confrontations with outsiders (played by actors) and that the colonists will not know that the threats they face aren’t deadly. They also will have advisors on hand in case their health is at risk.

That immediately rang some alarm bells. The problem is that you can’t properly simulate a crisis unless you believe it fully, and having advisors and camera crews on hand (to film the events and interview the participants) naturally break the sense of realism; one is constantly reminded it’s a set-up.

Reading online comments on the show, it was also suggested that the people involved with it interfered or influenced the course of events to some degree. I wouldn’t be surprised, given that these “reality” shows are often scripted to make them more exciting for audiences.

But there’s also the matter of the colonists’ well-being. Surely the camera crew couldn’t just plant cameras for 10 weeks and just let things happen, filming everything and then editing it together. For legal reasons, no doubt that they must ensure these people aren’t pushed over the edge.

People could get seriously hurt, maybe even die.

In any case, I was intrigued by the show, and got pulled in the moment it started; I often found myself unable to watch just one episode at a time (although two was always sufficient). I loved seeing them attempt to achieve the goals they set for themselves, and watching their interactions.

The show begins by setting the stage, explaining that the participants have been sleep-deprived for 30 hours and given little food or water, so as to emulate these extreme survival conditions. They also give them 15 minutes in an abandoned department store to gather up resources beforehand.

Then they are sent out lugging their stuff down the Los Angeles River to this deserted factory, which has been painted in large letters with the word “SANCTUARY”. Subtle. Not long after settling in and scoping the place, however, another group of four, complete strangers, came knocking.

What I was surprised to see is that they were let in. Surely these “colonists” had been told to expect the new arrivals or were advised to let them in, because there could have been a chance that they would have turned them away – thereby unwittingly ruining the whole plans for the show.

Another possibility is that the producers had foreseen this possibility and told the newbies to prepare for a long stay, but also told them that they might be turned away. Perhaps the many actors during this production were told the same: prepare to stay, but expect to be turned away.

On a similar note, the group was confronted with “marauders” and “nomads” throughout the show… how could the producers be sure that this crew wouldn’t harm them? I know that, in a situation where there is no law enforcement, I would very likely be ruthless in defending myself.

Were the actors stuntpeople and martial artists capable of dealing with this situation? Had they signed release forms should something happen to them during this show? Or were the colonists told to restrain themselves, not harm anyone, thereby stripping the situation of its tension and realism?

Honestly, it sure would have been nice to know how this show was put together before watching it. Creating the illusion of reality in such a contrived environment is nearly impossible, and skeptics like myself can’t help but deconstruct this so-called “reality”. Better to just put your cards on the table.

Either way, they were now ten – and would remain ten for most of the series.

But not all.

And now, over the course of ten episodes (spanning close to 60 days), we would watch these survivors work together towards a mutual goal: getting out of L.A. to some place that is more sustainable (interestingly, they seemed united on this goal, even though they already had it good).

What was unusual to me is that, very much from the start, they plan to leave but create all sorts of devices that are stationary or hard to move. Seems to me that, were I considering leaving, I would focus on the basics and only plan for the escape – not waste any energy on things I couldn’t bring with me.

The initial set-up made sense though: they fixed the bathroom, set up a sleeping quarter, and got some much-needed sleep (while they took turns keeping watch). But their priorities soon came into question: Making coffee? Powering up power tools before getting ample food and water? Dolling yourself up?

Because, yes, one of the girls can be seen putting on make-up and wearing heels at one point. Really?

It takes until halfway through the season before they put together a small clinic, even though conditions are such that their health is at risk (some of them have lost a dramatic amount of weight by the midway point in the show, and the slightest injury can be deadly in this unsanitary environment).

And then there’s security. They were really sloppy about that right from the start, leaving doors unlocked, valuables unprotected, making themselves all too visible to outsiders (instead of being discrete) and even letting marauders follow them instead of trying to ditch them after being seen.

There’s an episode where they spend some time securing the place, but they waste far too much of it crafting all sorts of weapons and gadgets – some of which will serve no real purpose unless they plan to be cold-blooded. But, even in all-out fights, there is little harm done to anyone. So what’s the point?

They also let strangers with automatic weapons into their compound to do some bartering – instead of doing that outside the compound. Without keeping the women safe – not because they can’t defend themselves, but because, in an environment like this, at gunpoint, who knows what criminals might do to them.

They should have been considered a threat.

Gender roles were also a problem. Initially, they took on classic roles, with the women cleaning and cooking. The focus of the show is on the guys, being (for the most part) the tinkerers and inventors – with some exceptions. It left the women looking useless, even though they surely did plenty.

Some of the guys got bossy, with some shouting a lot. I made me wonder whether or not some of the participants weren’t instructed to be jerks to add tension to the situation. It so turns out that many of them are actors with an IMDB profile (Mike, the biggest lout of them all, had prior experience).

But then, this is cast and set in L.A., I suppose.

The nicest of the bunch was John C, the sort of old hippie. He was also the cleverest of them all (Mike came a close second), pretty much inventing everything from scratch. He was basically the scientist of the bunch, helping the group ozonate their water, that sort of thing. He was indispensible but egoless.

The show suffered from a large number of contrivances. For instance, when they go looking for food, they find a goat. In L.A.? Really? Everything has been considered by the show’s producers it seemed: they always found whatever they needed for their projects in that warehouse, which was full of treasures.

The worst of it was when they found a projector and some home movies, as well as an old turntable and some records. In a warehouse? What in the world were those things doing there? In the end, that’s the key problem with ‘The Colony’: it feels contrived, and there’s nothing to justify/excuse any of it.

One of the thing I really liked is that the show plays around with the group’s make-up, adding and removing people to shake the other colonists up. That was a nice touch, because it destabilized them in realistic ways (i.e. in an environment like this one, this could very well happen). Nice.

And yet, even when people disappear, the group doesn’t seem to consider the risks as much as they should. They are rather weak on security, truth be told – even though Joey claims to have been in prison and to be vigilant. Seems to me I would be far more concerned with safety in this context.

But, as I was saying, the show’s many contrivances might have made the participants complacent, too comfy (how could they possibly be at risk on a TV show, right?). This led me to wonder if they were play acting, going through the motion, or are they actually doing this, believing it for real?

I mean, how would they believe that there are actual threats? Subconsciously, they must surely know it’s just a show. The participants talk as though it’s happening, even during interviews, but how can they forget the reality of the show with the camera crew around all the time?

Were they simply coached/edited in a way so that they say these things?

I also wondered how the producers managed to close off large areas of L.A. to make it seem deserted, and so that there isn’t any interference. Because, surely, the colonists would hear the hum of the city’s daily activities, see people, interact with others by mistake. How did they pull it off?

They also don’t address simple issues like attraction, sex, …etc. Surely some of the people may have felt connected and or attracted. They were locked together for two months… wouldn’t there be weird dynamics at play? Or would all of that be tossed to the wayside in a situation of crisis?

This is not explored. And neither are their past histories and the sense of loss they must have felt by being torn from everything and everyone for such a long time. Aside for the few interviews where they talk/rant about one another, the show is fairly emotionally vacant. Hard to imagine in this context.

But, all in all, I enjoyed watching this so-called “experiment”. It could have been more realistic, there could have been more expert opinion, and we could have been provided with more insight into the set-up and inner workings of the show, but it’s nonetheless an interesting premise worth exploring.

Interestingly, at the end of the season, the group is seen leaving the warehouse to seek more stable sources of food and greater security outside the city – but the second season consists of an entirely different setting and cast.I wonder why that is. Were there no other situations left to explore?

Perhaps they were fine-tuning and tightening the series. If so, that would be well-worth watching.

Dates of viewings: Jan 25-Feb 8, 2015

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